Light sabre

Ever been sunburned? Gone to bed with that awful, sweaty, stinging feeling of hot regret? Had little blisters form then pop? We pretty much all have haven’t we. Stupid bastards that we are! “Stupid” because that ol’ friend of ours, our nearest star, our planet’s parent and orbital centre, The Sun, puts out a lot of energy. Just how much; well obviously enough to broil your shoulders at some point!

As this picture clearly shows, you can work out the energy received at any given point using this simple formula:

\overline{Q}^{\mathrm{day}}, the theoretical daily-average insolation at the top of the atmosphere, where θ is the polar angle of the Earth’s orbit, and θ = 0 at the vernal equinox, and θ = 90° at the summer solstice; φ is the latitude of the Earth. The calculation assumed conditions appropriate for 2000 A.D.: a solar constant of S0 = 1367 W m−2, obliquity of ε = 23.4398°, longitude of perihelion of ϖ = 282.895°, eccentricity e = 0.016704. Contour labels (green) are in units of W m−2.”

Got that? Clearly though this formula doesn’t account for the various ways that the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs and scatters the energy as it travels from the outer edge of the atmosphere to ground level. That varies depending on cloud cover and other suspended moisture, suspended particulates, vegetation and so on. So lets just sum it all up and say that the sun puts out a lot of energy and on a hot, clear day you could fry an egg very, very quickly using just the sun’s heat.

Which brings us to this little conundrum; what do you do with an old satellite (internet) dish that has been superseded with a newer, faster model?

IMG_0623Do you;

  1. Give it to the dish-installer man to take away and dispose of?
  2. Turn it into a very large birdbath?
  3. Leave it forever behind the garage until the Missus yells “Clean that shitpile up!”
  4. Use it to make mischief (in a fun, harmless way of course)?

Guess which numbered box the money is in….you betcha….Number 4!

There are quite a few YouTube videos of people making reflector dishes out of old sat’ dishes. Many of them use the little, square mirrors, like off a disco mirror ball. All I can say is that they must be richer than me, or at least more willing to throw money at a simple, fun project. At the cheapest price I could find those mirror squares for sale the total cost for enough of them would have been $400-$500. No way José!!

Reflective Mylar film is another matter – a roll of that comes in about $40-$50. The overall reflective properties probably aren’t quite as good as a set of glass mirrors (Mylar film comes in at about 92-97% reflectivity, not too different than mirrors as the actual reflective material in a mirror is basically the same stuff; however the Mylar film is impossible to adhere to the dish without some imperfections resulting, such as ripples, bubbles and some areas of glue overspray) and of course the film won’t be weatherproof so the dish will have to be stored indoors. However these cons just pale into insignificance against the cost savings.

The film was cut into (roughly) triangular shapes to allow us to better shape it into the dish. To glue the film to the dish we used a spray adhesive, masking off each previously glued section to prevent (OK…minimise) overspray.

Here is the completed dish, mounted on the post, leg spars and roof brackets that were intended to actually put the original dish on a roof, and are here slightly modified to provide a stable, free-standing base.

IMG_0635It all looks very innocent. Looks can however be deceiving…

More mayhem….errrr….I mean “Scientific Experiments of an Educational Nature” videos to come. The video above was our first “experiment” which was performed at around 2:30pm mid September. Can’t wait for mid-Summer at between 11am and 1pm (solar time).

Warning – try this at home.

The Coffee Table Book (Addendum)

Vermont is a bloody nice place. Nice people. Nice coffee. Nice environment. The ONLY state in the USA which has a state capital (Montpelier) which does not have a McDonalds outlet in town. I mean…how good is THAT! I particularly recommend the Rivendell Book shop there as being a very cool little bookshop selling a mix of new and second hand titles, which also features highly knowledgeable staff who can find a second hand copy of Finnegans Wake in an instant, without resorting to looking on the computer to see if they have it in stock and if so where in the shop it might be. The shop also has a very happy looking turtle in a large tank in the rear children’s book room. You don’t get that buying books through

Vermont was also the birthplace of Edward John Phelps.

Edward was a man of excellent whiskers, crinkly laugh lines around his eyes, and a habit of quoting other, similarly whiskered men, for example a certain William Connor Magee.

Now ol’ Billy Magee actually lived during the early years of photography, albeit he died well before every man and his monkey was busy snapping selfies every second of the day. Despite Billy and photography sharing their timelines all we have as a visual reminder of little Billy is this:

I think we can all agree that either Billy was, ahem…not everyone’s idea of a “Babaliscious Stud”. Or perhaps that this is not exactly the best drawing in the world. Still…now I know who inspired this character:

Despite appearances ol’ Billy Magee was no fool, and he is famous for saying “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything”; exactly the words that Edward would quote some years later.

And so it is that via a circuitous route we come to the postmortem of the coffee table construction, for it certainly was not without the making of mistakes.

To be fair, the only “formal” learning I have received concerning woodwork came in the form of a woodworking class I took in Year 9 or year 10 in High School, and I can’t say I was “Top of the class”. Still…life I think can make one more practical as time goes by, and so those long ago learned basics are perhaps today augmented by a little more common sense and a set of basic tools with which practice has made me familiar, plus some feeling of security that comes from the knowledge that any mistakes made are mine alone and won’t be counting toward a dreaded school report at end of term.

Things I would do differently next time:

  • Keep a wider separation between random bits of cloth and electric planers.
  • Even when knowing which way I wanted the legs glued, slap myself a few times before drilling and gluing them together.
  • Work out some way of rigging up a planing jig (without having to buy one) so that I could have finished the timbers for the top slab to D.A.R. state ie. planed to squared dimensions. The individual strips within the edge-dowelled slab don’t quite come together in some places as the sides were planed to eye-sight not in a jig. Overall this looks OK as the finished piece has a deliberately “organic” shape anyway, but having the timbers D.A.R. would have been nice.
  • Cutting to length braces that match the distances between the leg cuts on the bottom shelf, allowing the legs and shelf to be (dry) clamped to the exact dimensions, using the braces to keep the correct distances between the leg pairs before drilling the dowel holes in the tops of the legs and then in the top slab. Despite the best care somehow the legs ended up moving out a little during this step, thus the cut-outs in the bottom shelf each have about a 1.5mm gap instead of each leg being tight into its cut-out.

That said, I am happy with the outcome. It is nice to put something down on that table and know that it is a product of my own effort, and not something that has been spat out at volume from some distant, anonymous factory. It is also nice to know that this piece of furniture has not required the felling of some new forest in order to make it, as it is (mostly) a product of re-using old timbers. Finally, it is good to take some old piece of timber and turn it into something useful.

Thus life’s circle turns and what was ageing and passed it’s first purpose has become something new.


The Coffee Table Book (Part 5)

Time to dust off the tools and replace those buggered legs.

IMG_0598 copyHere are the two, glued and finish-sanded sets of legs. Sadly there were no more “nice old bolt holes” to be had, but each leg features a couple of nail holes, from which the nails have been pulled (well….”mostly pulled” as a few snapped off despite the best of care).

IMG_0485Next step is to trim a slab of White Cedar that was gifted to me a number of years back, and which will form the bottom shelf of the table – as well as doubling as lower bracing between the leg-sets.

After cutting the cedar slab has then been sanded with 80, 120, 240 and 280 grade paper. There was quite a bit of saw blade chatter marking on the board, especially near the larger of the two circles in the grain (where a branch would have originally grown). To completely eliminate these would have required taking about 2mm off which was impractical for a number of reasons. Hence the worst of the chatter has been sanded out before moving on to the finishing sanding. The end result is smooth, if a little ripply.

Here are all the pieces waiting for final assembly – pretty much the last time this is going to look like a pile of parts.

IMG_0598Here is the dry assemble – prior to drilling out the dowel holes in the top slab and the bottom shelf. Basically everything is just sitting, balanced on top of everything else at the moment.

And all clamped up for the final gluing…

After about an hour or so on went the first coat of linseed oil; everywhere except where the clamps and the glue were, because by this stage I just couldn’t wait to see what the grain was going to come up like…

Time to put it all away and let the final glue cure overnight!

<-Go to Part 4 …. Go to Part 6->


The Coffee Table Book (Part 4)

I admit it…I’ve been sulking for a little while. I’d thrown my safety goggles out of the pram. Downed tools. Generally turned my back on the Coffee Table project. You see….someone had been twisting my leg!

A while back I did a “finish sand” over all the surfaces of the first set of legs, dowelled them up, and braced and glued them. Here they are;

One of the legs had a lovely, feature “bolt hole” for which this length of timber had been selected. All that remained to be done with this leg set was to give it a final finish-sand, especially to remove excess glue around the joints. All good!

Except….I’d put the legs on the wrong way! As you may see in the “middle” picture the leg timbers are rectangular, not square. In this leg-set I dowelled the crossbeam into the short side of the legs, not the wide side. This error is more than simply one with aesthetic implications, as it makes the overall leg set too wide for the table top.


No way to redeem this now – it just goes into the newly created “Collection of very nice H-shaped timber pieces that may one day be useful” pile. I’m rather hoping to not add too much more to that collection!

Oh well….after a little sulk it’s time to cut two more legs and start again!

<-Go to Part 3a …. Go to Part 5->

The Coffee Table Book (Part 3)

The top of the coffee table is now up to the next stage of the fun – shaping and sanding. The now dried slab of boards needs to be flattened on both sides, be trimmed to provide the overall shape, have the edges rounded and shaped and be sanded in preparation for finishing.

Sometimes it is best to embrace one’s weaknesses and turn them into a strength. These words of wisdom are my way of saying that I recognise that I am almost certainly never going to achieve a perfectly squared piece of furniture; after all we’re not making one of these:








Therefore I’m embracing my lack of exactness to create something more organic in nature. I also think this is more sympathetic to the nature of the materials I’m working with – reclaimed and reused timber.

The plan then (ok – there isn’t really a plan I’m working from other than a picture in my head I’m working towards and adapting and improvising along the way) is to round off the corners of the glued slab. Most importantly these round corners will be hand drawn and deliberately be uneven left to right and end to end. Before shaping the ends the slab has been rough planed both sides to a more even width.

IMG_0444After marking the cut the trimming is being done using a jig saw. Even with a fresh rip-cut blade the timbers really challenge the rip saw – not only is the slab right on the maximum thickness the saw can handle, the multi-decade seasoned ironbark is incredibly hard. I am really having to push the saw through the cut:


Coffee Table – Ripsaw

IMG_0451Next stage is to further plane both sides of the slab, and also shape the edges using the plane. Then on to the sanding. The rough sand is with P80 grade – again the well seasoned ironbark is playing havoc with the tools. Overall the rough sand ripped through about twelve sheets of P80, which each sheet losing 50% of the effectiveness as a sanding material after the first 60 seconds of sanding.

The left hand side of the slab in this photo has been rough sanded, erasing the worse of the planer marks.

IMG_0457All that planing, cutting and orbital sanding was making my hands buzz….time for a coffee break. It seemed only the right thing to do to bring out the makings to the nascent table…

IMG_0461Lovely chocolate chip biscuit home baked yesterday by the Ladies of the House, and a quick few pages of The Bookshop that Floated Away which I bought as a birthday present for The Larger Loinfruit, and am now reading myself.

There is however no rest for the wicked and its back to the grind…or rather the planing and sanding. Seeing as the top of the table had been fully sanded by this point I took the precaution of padding the saw horses with some cloth so that the exercise of further planing and then sanding the underside, once the slab was flipped over, did not leave gouges and paint marks from the much used saw horse on the newly finished “top” surface. This was basically an excellent idea, but I wasn’t intending on this happening:

IMG_0462Note to self….be a little bit more careful when planing near bits of cloth.

The good news is that I now also know much more about how to take apart a RYOBI power planer than I did before. The bad news is that getting the cloth out required decoupling the tangled planer drum from the drive wheel by removing the drive belt (so that the drum could be turned in reverse) and that when I did so the drum band was damaged. This subsequently led to the discovery that the ONLY way to order RYOBI spare parts is via the Bunnings Special Orders Desk. Sigh….

Before packing up for the day I rubbed a small section of the sanded table with a wet cloth, and you can start to see the finish that will come up once the table is rubbed with linseed oil once completed. Not bad for a shitty old, nail ridden piece of old decking…


<-Go to Part 2 …. Go to Part 3a->


The Coffee Table Book (Part 2)

Time to glue all those timbers together into a slab to make the table top. Think “very large edge glued bread board” and you’re on the right track. Most excitingly this part of the project involves the purchase of a new tool; specifically a dowelling jig.

Firstly all the timbers have been sorted so that adjacent boards have a roughly matching thickness, with the thinner ones at the outside edges. They’ve also all been trimmed to about the same length – approximately 1350mm. The length has been chosen to complement a White Cedar board that will later be used as the bottom shelf for the table, which is itself 1100mm in length.

Each board is secured to the next with four dowel joints, plus PVA glued all along the edges. Sash clamps are courtesy of The Convener, who has an impressive selection to choose from in his awesome and impressive slabbed timber workshed (including some pipe clamps that are 5 metres long!).

Each newly glued board is left clamped for about 45 minutes before the clamps are released and the next added on. All the boards have been predrilled ready for the dowels so that the clamps are not left off to long during this process. By the end of the day all seven boards have been glued and clamped tightly, and the slab then tucked away to cure for a few days.

The boards aren’t all even, but that’s OK as the next step involves a load more planing and shaping.

<-Go to Part 1 …. Go to Part 3->

The Coffee Table Book (Part 1)

Down the side of the storage area for the trailer is a pile of shitty, old, nail spiked lengths of hardwood timber; the remnants of an old deck that was pulled down a while back. This pile represents the timbers that had a solid feel to them when they were removed, indicating that beneath their rotten exteriors a heartwood of strength beats still.

Before and afterThat there is a classic before and after photo, without the aid of coy staging or Photoshopping. The timbers the old piece is sitting on are ten or so lengths that have already been trimmed and planed.

About a year or so ago one of the lengths had already been through this process and proven its worthiness as a member of my “long solid bits of naily, seemingly rotten timber that might someday be useful for something” collection having been transformed into a rather awesome ceremonial staff-like object for a friend’s 50th birthday (“rather awesome” even if I do say so myself!).

The rest of the pile however just sat there with a dejected sort of expression that clearly meant “Hurry up and turn me into something you lazy, procrastinating bastard”. I could tell it all just was desperate to channel its inner coffee table – I dunno…sometimes you can just tell these things even if you can’t normally speak fluent Entish.

And so has begun the quite possibly long process of building a coffee table. Knowing as I do your intense curiosity as to the status of the project, here are some exciting action photos:

Time for a coffee…if only I had somewhere to put it…

(The next part of the Story)



Burning man

Sometimes you just have to channel your inner Firestarter .

Fire season approaches and after a few years of rainy years the fuel load has built up everywhere. This year the ENSO cycle is swinging us towards a baking and rainless summer, and we’re therefore expecting a hot, dry, dangerous season of bush fires. Time to clear some wind fall and maintain what the NSW RFS terms the Asset Protection Zone (APZ).

Last year there were a few burn piles I had built but then ran out of time to light up before we hit the summer fire-permit season. As well as getting through those I have also a few more new piles to build – all up we’re probably looking at about 7 burn piles before the summer officially starts.

Burn pile

Burn pile

“Never start a fire you can’t put out” are wise words – so there is a bit of prep’ do before the matches come out. As the first pile is down the North East slope at the outer edge of the APZ this means setting up Davey as close to the pile as possible whilst still having a water feed handy, then running a hose down to the pile which is built about 50m from that pump location. Davey is being fed by the new header tank which has been filled as well, giving 10,000l of drenching ability should things go not-to-plan.

IMG_0152  Once the pump is ready the next step is to do a final clear around the pile with the fire rake, gear up in jeans, boots, wool jumper, leather hat, fire goggles, fire gloves and a protective wrap covering the face/neck/ears. That sounds very over he top until you’ve stood next to a burn pile at full fury – it’ll singe skin within seconds at distances less than 2 metres. The neighbours already having been warned to not panic at smoke columns it’s time to go. A little splash of diesel, flame introduced by way of gas powered, metre long fire wand….and….

And make a wish and blow it out...

And make a wish and blow it out…

Houston...we have ignition

Houston…we have ignition

 “I’m a firestarter, terrific firestarter.
You’re the firestarter, twisted firestarter.
I’m a firestarter, terrific firestarter”

Stairway to heaven (or at least the garage)

At the South Western corner of the house there is a bank rising about a metre and a half or so, sloped outward at 45 degrees. Its a natural shortcut when heading to the garage, though perhaps not when carrying things as the ground can be slippery when damp. A few metres to the right there are some rough stone steps, constructed I guess when the house was built some 30 years ago. The shortcut was so much used it had clearly proved worthy of being formalised and honoured with some steps of its own.

Steps need to be solid, and solid means big rocks, and big rocks means “bloody hell…that’s heavy <insert sound here of the sound of the kurfuffle valve rupturing>”. The bottom step forms the base for all the others and of course needs to be biggest, heaviest, kurfuffle-valve-blowingest stone of all. Here it is weighting* to be placed in position.
So you can appreciate it better here is another view. To get this stone to this point required dragging it with a chain on a steel drag sheet, using the Scooby Doo. Even it called for a plate of fresh Scooby Snacks afterwards.

Another view of what will be the bottom step - she's a monster

Another view of what will be the bottom step – she’s a monster

Getting the first stone into place basically involved two careful stages: firstly dig out a stone shaped hole; and secondly roll the stone off the slope and hope the best it landed roughly in the right place. Fortunately it did, and after just a little bit of juggling we were ready for the next.


This photo is a bit blurry. I think my kurfuffle valve was still erupting at this point.




IMG_0139And we’re done. Phew. Just a bit of tidying up to do and we’re ready to take the next step. **

* Can you see what I’ve done there? Can you? Or did you think I made an accidental spelling error?

** Can you see what I’ve done there? Golly I’m funny.


Time for a new tank

At the top of the hill are three old steel tanks. Not the sort you drive around in looking for people to kill, the sort that stores water. In other words, tanks for life not tanks for death.

Two of them are nothing but broken down old relics from which we have started to harvest the left over sections of still-useful-for-something curved corrugated iron. For instance a cross-sectioned slice of the tank that has the smaller loin-fruit’s bike leaning against it will soon be a 400mm deep aqua-garden, once lined with pond liner and otherwise set up. IMG_0011

The tank in the middle ground his until recently continued to serve as a header tank for the irrigation. It has certainly earned its keep, being lined with a tank-bladder it was still watertight even after 20+ years. However tanks are a bit like some old people; their bladders eventually fail and begin to leak in unfortunate ways and just as you wouldn’t want an embarrassing stain on your trousers whilst queueing in the market, nor do you want to lose 5000 litres of valuable water.

To be frank the old tank stank and it was time for a brand new spankin’ tank thanks.

We won't be seeing that view of the tank again

We won’t be seeing that view of the tank again

Waiting to be installed

Waiting to be installed

The replacement tank is 10,000 litres capacity and is constructed of food grade plastic. Though we are of the opinion that in general the phrase “food grade plastic” is akin to “military intelligence” the reality is that this baby is going to be used for irrigation only, and steel tanks are plastic lined anyway. The other alternative; concrete tanks are too cost prohibitive for this application.

Needless to say a 10,000l tank when full weighs a few tens of kilos over ten tonne. When installed 40 metres or so up the hill from where you’re having a Pimms and Lemonade on a hot day you want that baby to be unlikely to suddenly tip and roll down at you. You also don’t want all that weight sitting on a sharp rock, or you’ll soon have a second leaking tank!

The “pad” for the new tank has been bordered, levelled and packed with fine grit road mix to create a reliable surface that will further harden and bed down as time, pressure and moisture settle it.

Tank pad

Tank pad

Once the pad is prepared the next step is to recruit some helpers in the form of She-Who-Puts-Up-With-Being-Recruited-Into-All-Sorts-Of-Crazy-Schemes-Of-Mine and the local neighbour. Helpers are necessary for two reasons; firstly because large tanks are heavy and cumbersome even when empty and they like to roll down hills, and secondly because you need someone to look at the prepared pad and say “That’s not big enough!” so that when you ignore them, drop the tank into place and demonstrate that indeed it is perfectly sized you can gloat at their ignorance and scoff at their doubt.

Ready to be filled

Ready to be filled

Once filled from the dam (using the trusty Davey pump) this tank holds enough for about 6-8 weeks worth of irrigating the vegies. The water is delivered to the vegie garden taps at approximately 52psi (358kpa) static pressure of head (approximately 40 metres of drop). For reference standard domestic supply is about 58-72psi so whilst this is close to the the low end of the scale we’re pretty close to a standard tap pressure.